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Laudato Si — Do we see any Syncretism? — Part V

July 17th, 2015, Promulgated by Diane Harris

This Laudato Si — Part V commentary, begins with a definition:

“Syncretism:  the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.”

The authentic Catholic Church proceeds very carefully to avoid syncretism, which leads to a dilution or misrepresentation of our Faith.  For example, in Haiti there has been a long standing problem of some laity trying to inculcate voodoo practices into the Mass and other liturgies, and that is not allowed.  However, in Africa, where dancing at Church services is historic practice, accommodations are made to allow for that joyful expression to continue on the part of attendees, such as in their bringing forth their offerings, but not to become Liturgy itself.  When culture, e.g. North American, tries to graft on legitimate parts of another culture, and transform bonafide, joyful processional dancing into liturgical dance in the aisles of a Cathedral, even if it didn’t violate Faith teachings, it would still look just plain silly!

Syncretism is far more serious than just looking silly.  Without having any experience in differentiating what is liturgically acceptable and what is not,  it is still possible to point out what is disturbing in Laudato Si; i.e. that which evokes an aura of juxtaposing what is holy language serving the worship of God to what is common, secular, and materialistic,  serving the environment or the social agenda.  In a sense, use of words which we have come to know belong to our Catholic Faith are destabilized when used almost as “selling points” to push a separate agenda.

Although it is impossible to read Pope Francis’ intentions regarding his word choices, which convey or at least stir thoughts of syncretism, nevertheless it is possible and necessary to identify the text, and to caution that the such statements not be blithely accepted as elevating the created to an inappropriate dignity.  Here are examples; the problematic language is bolded.  Please note that this is not the same as saying something is true or untrue.  Rather, it only questions framing these issues using terms of religion in a way different from the catechism, scripture or canon law.  Confusion in faith causes risk to souls.

Some phrases are carefully attributed to other writers, even Saint John Paul II, and in original contexts, which I cannot assess; but Pope Francis’ use and repeated use make those also his own words.  Here are some quotes which raise questions of syncretism:

“…global ecological conversion.” (#5)

“…the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet…” (#8)

“…acknowledge our sins against creation…” (#8)

“…to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves …” (#8)

“As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion….” (#9)

“…We learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: “I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own.'”  (#85)

“A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern ….” (#91)

“We human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage….” (#92)

Covenant between Humanity and the Environment” (#209)

“Ecologic(al) Conversion” (#216 to 221)

“The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion.” (#219)

“… splendid universal communion …” (#220)

“… an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God ‘as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable.’” (#220) (Reference is to Romans 12:1 – It seems fair here to note that Romans continues with “ …which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  The excerpt by Pope Francis does not seem to support the spiritual worship intent  and context of these verses of the Letter to the Romans.

“We … understand our superiority … as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.” (#220) – A very tenuous leap at best, since our difference from other creatures is intrinsic; i. e. we are made in the image and likeness of God.

“… sublime fraternity with all creation.” (#221)

“Care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion.” (#228)

“When we feel that God is calling us to intervene with others in these social dynamics, we should realize that this too is part of our spirituality, which is an exercise of charity and, as such, matures and sanctifies us.”  (#231)

“… community actions, when they express self-giving love, can also become intense spiritual experiences.” (#232)

Sacramental Signs and the Celebration of Rest” (#233)

 

Pope Francis’ choice to quote a Muslim Sufi Mystic

At this point, Pope Francis introduces text from the spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas, with a number of direct quotes.  A quick visit to Wikipedia (always subject to revision) states the following:  “In 2015 he [al-Khawas] was cited by the Roman Catholic Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si’ on the topic of ecology.  Francis writes that humanity can ‘discover God in all things.’ ”  Pope Francis actually writes: “The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.

He credits al-Khawas for the concept of nature’s “‘mystical meaning,’  to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.” In footnote 159, Pope Francis writes: “The spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas stresses from his own experience the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God. As he puts it: ‘Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…’” (#233)

Why does the Pope choose a 9th century Muslim Sufi poet and mystic for the key message in this section?   [St. Bonaventure and St. John of the Cross are next quoted].  Is bringing Sufism into proximity to the two saints, secondarily mentioned, any risk of Syncretism?  While contemplative prayer is open to those who have received such a gift from God, we should remember that those great saints were well grounded in Catholicism before, during and after their experiences.  There would seem to be little basis to analogizing or combining their experiences with cultures which do not accept Christ, for the sake of an environmental encyclical.

The TIME story is here:  http://time.com/3927357/pope-francis-ali-al-khawas/

 

The remaining quotes in the Encyclical which at least tread somewhat near to syncretism, are:

“The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life.  Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane [sic].” (#235)

Speaking of the Eucharist, Pope Francis writes of Christ: “He comes not from above but from within….The Eucharist …embraces and penetrates all creation….” [I thought He came from above.  John 3:31.] (#236)

“The Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.” (#236)  The Church has finely honed and passed on to us the specific and accurate language surrounding the Eucharist.  While we should continue to speak of that miracle in praise and thanksgiving, great care should be taken not to introduce “alternative” ways of speaking which can easily cause confusion, and thus denigration.  Clarity belongs to the Holy Spirit.

“And so the day of rest, centred [sic] on the Eucharist, sheds it [sic] light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.” (#237)

“…the challenge of trying to read reality in a Trinitarian key.” (#239)

“The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures.  In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created.  Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.” (#240)  

“…crucified poor” (#241)

 

Conclusion

There is very little additional commentary to be made regarding syncretism.  The quotes stand for themselves, so most of them have been included.  One cannot speculate on Pope Francis’ motives in using so many words which have a particular meaning in Catholicism. We can only note the effect, which I personally find disturbing. It seems to leave too much room open for incoherent or dissident interpretations, troubling the unity mark of the Church, and opening yet another door to facilitate One World Religion.

However, I cannot say that this institutes or anoints Syncretism – only that if Syncretism were to be introduced under the guise of religious leadership in a transition from environmentalism to pantheistic worship, it might look somewhat similar.  And, let us remember St. Paul’s words (Galatians 4: 8-9): “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods: but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

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2 Responses to “Laudato Si — Do we see any Syncretism? — Part V”

  1. avatar snowshoes says:

    Thank you, Diane, for another excellent analysis, and some synthesis, of Pope Francis’s document. Where did I read recently, the retort of a scientist regarding another’s poor research paper not ready for review: “It isn’t even wrong…”

    Not to be unkind, but there is, as with the law, an ancient tradition of precise terminology, of development of ideas, logic and summary which attends the writing of papal encyclicals for the benefit of the Faithful. Your exposition of this document has made clear to me the imprecise way our Holy Father has attempted to convey his ideas of our responsibility for the environment. Brevity is the soul of wit. I suspect Pope Francis is a witty man, he didn’t complete his work, and if it was a committee project, he didn’t exercise the leadership required to finalize the document into a logical whole. Back to the woodshed, Your Holiness… I don’t even want to think that such apparent sloppiness is by design. God help us.

    Yes, St. Thomas Aquinas “baptized” Aristotle, but he went on to write his magnum opus expounding on how the philosophy of Aristotle can be used by Catholics. We know that all legitimate science and philosophical work may be utilized by Catholics, and then given to all people to use, through the hard work of analysis and synthesis. The most positive thing I can say, based on your work, Diane, is that the pope needs to complete his work here, because it’s not done. St. Camillus de Lellis, ora pro nobis. God bless you.

  2. avatar christian says:

    On Wednesday, July 15th, 2015, under Laudato Si Part IV, I wrote the quote:

    “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 – New American Standard Bible

    That quote from the Bible came to me as the general theme I had regarding Laudato Si (and other spiritual, theological, and liturgical matters). – One should not readily accept without question, everything that is brought across from the Church at at any level, or from any earthly authority, but carefully weigh what is being said, stated, or done, and draw your own conclusion based on what you know to be right and true.

    As you have stated Diane, it is interesting that Pope Francis left out the remaining few words of Romans 12:1, and left out completely what follows directly behind it, Romans 12:2 as stated above.

    I agree, that there appears to be an attempt of syncretism in Laudato Si as there is certain attempts at wording and concepts that will pull people in from various religions. As a example, in # 240 – the term “trinitarian dynamism” can be applied to Hindus and some other faiths as well as Christianity, when the members of the Trinity are not specified.

    The Trinity in Hinduism is: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
    The Buddhist Trinity -Trikaya – relays the 3 bodies of Buddha: The Dharmakaya-the Truth body, Sambhogakaya-the body of mutual enjoyment, and Nirmanakaya -the created body which manifests in time and space.
    And we Christians believe the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit).

    Additionally, Pope Francis uses the monothesism “God” in much of the encyclical, interweaving it with modern ecological scientific terms and social justice. He adds literary words of a Muslim poetic. And Humanitarianism is evoked. Something for everyone.

    I cannot get the feeling that Laudato Si was intended to reach a world-wide audience extending beyond the confines of the Catholic Church and the Christian faith.


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